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Burning questions for the NFL playoffs

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Adam Schein

Adam Schein hosts the "Sirius Blitz" on Sirius NFL Radio from 11-3 ET. He also co-hosts "Loudmouths" on Sports Net New York every weeknight at 6 ET. He is a weekly columnist, files weekly video reports and makes NFL picks "video style" for FOXSports.com.

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It’s tournament time, and there’s nothing better in sports. But with competitive balance and parity, there are a ton of questions heading into the playoffs.

We examine, SCHEIN 9 style.

1. Who are the Colts?

I chuckle when I hear commentators automatically place the Colts in the second round. I laugh when I read that the Colts are a prime candidate to go on a sustained run in January. How exactly does anyone know what Colts team is going to show up? Why would anyone trust this year’s version of the Indianapolis Colts with their bevy of injuries? Indy has one of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history, a star receiver and two sensational pass rushers at defensive end. After that, I see 49 question marks on the roster.

Has anyone watched Indy play this year? Did anyone watch them struggle for four quarters last week against the already-mailed-it-in Titans? Does anyone remember Peyton Manning going through his single worst stretch of his NFL career, when he threw 11 picks in a three-game losing streak to the Patriots, Chargers and Cowboys as he dealt with injuries?

Dallas Clark is done for the year. Austin Collie is out. Blair White and Jacob Tamme have been adequate replacements but don’t quite fill the shoes. How about the spotty running attack, the sudden reliance on previously unemployed Dominic Rhodes? Donald Brown had one legit game this year against Jacksonville. Joseph Addai has battled injuries. Jim Caldwell told us Monday on Sirius NFL Radio that he will use all three against the Jets and ride the hot hand. That’s a cause for concern.

Indy’s run defense deserves a ton of credit for shutting down three of the best backs in the league this year over the final three weeks in Maurice Jones-Drew, Darren McFadden, and Chris Johnson. But do you trust it? The Colts had the 25th-ranked run defense in the NFL giving up a whopping 127 yards per game on the ground. No playoff team, even Seattle, has a worse run defense than the Colts.

I think the Jets match up favorably. If Brian Schottenheimer calls plays like he did against the Bears and Steelers, keeping Indy off balance, getting Dustin Keller involved, taking advantage of mismatches he has with Mark Sanchez and his receivers against the Colts defensive backs, and remembers he employs Shonn Greene, the Jets will score 30 points. I think they can stop Indy’s run game and thus make plays against Manning. I’m not buying the Colts. And even if they make it past the Jets, I don’t think the Colts are better than the Steelers.

2. Can the Saints actually host a playoff game?

It might sound crazy with the Saints as a No. 5 seed, but think about it.

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The Saints will beat Seattle. I like Green Bay, with the way they are dominating in every phase, to beat a hobbled Mike Vick and the Eagles. The Packers would face the Falcons if that happens. When they met in the regular season, it came down to a final “Matty Ice” drive, set up by a Packers special teams penalty. That would be a great, “flip of the coin” game. Can the Saints win in Chicago? Of course they can, despite the Bears' second-half commitment to running the football. I know it is a long shot, but I could absolutely see two wild-card teams playing each other on championship Sunday.

3. Will Sean Payton rest his starters against Seattle?

Or how about wondering if this is a classic “trap game” with New Orleans looking ahead to Round 2?

Too soon to joke about the 7-9 Seahawks making the playoffs? Congrats to them on being the single best/worst team in league history by making the playoffs as a sub .500 team. That’s a first, excluding the strike-shortened 1982 season that featured an expanded playoff field. And likely a last. Charlie Whitehurst playing against the Saints? Please.

4. Are the Steelers ready to roll?

Troy Polamalu returned for Pittsburgh last week and made a major difference against the Browns in a laugher. And Polamalu’s presence eradicates average play at the cornerback position. Ben Roethlisberger, by his own standards, had a solid but not spectacular season. But you know he is incredibly clutch when it matters the most. Pittsburgh’s offensive line has been decimated by injuries, but it hasn’t negatively affected Rashard Mendenhall’s ability to run.

5. Are the Eagles, and Vick, ready?

Let’s be honest here. Philly played seven great minutes against the Giants. The Eagles didn’t show up against Minnesota. They looked flat against the Cowboys playing without an injured Vick, who is clearly not 100 percent, calling himself 75 percent healthy on Monday.

I love Andy Reid and always respect Philly’s chances, but the Eagles have a lot of issues, whether it is the offensive line or the overall defense. And I think they are running into a buzz saw with a deep and talented and well-rounded Packers team that is making plays on defense and special teams to go along with its outstanding passing attack, led by Aaron Rodgers. Charles Woodson and Tramon Williams match up well with the Eagles' receivers, and Dom Capers’ blitzing defense can rattle Vick.

6. Did the Falcons lose the invincibility factor?

To an extent, they did. It was a huge deal to see the Saints, in a game where Drew Brees tossed two ill-advised picks, beat Mike Smith and Matt Ryan in Atlanta. I think the Falcons remain the team to beat in the NFC. They are smart, clutch, protect the football, and the defense is underrated. But the Packers or Saints won’t fear Atlanta in Round 2.

7. Are the Chiefs distracted by the Charlie Weis situation?

I don’t buy it. It has been a pretty open secret for a while now that Weis and Todd Haley have been butting heads. And it certainly looks bad when KC suffers its first home loss of the year and Matt Cassel was at his worst the weekend news broke that Weis was leaving for the University of Florida at the end of the year. But that game on Sunday meant more to the Raiders, who were looking to go 6-0 in the division. KC already had the division wrapped up. It was a terrible game. But the “Weis situation” has been going on all year, and the Chiefs have been previously flawless at home.

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8. Will the Ravens rock the AFC?

It’s easy to say the Ravens have been a tad off this year, ranging from out of character fourth-quarter losses, to the play of the quarterbacks, to Cam Cameron relying too much on the pass.

Oh by the way — the Ravens went 12-4.

Baltimore is a better than Kansas City and should win. The Ravens have won in Pittsburgh this year, albeit when the Steelers didn’t have Roethlisberger. Baltimore played a great game against the Patriots in a loss and won in New England last postseason. The Ravens, now that Cameron is letting the offense go through Ray Rice once again, have re-established their identity on offense. The defense is making plays. They have a great coach and excellent leadership. The Ravens, though not classically great, could rock the AFC party.

9. Can anyone beat the Patriots?

I don’t see it. Tom Brady hasn’t thrown a pick since October and the future Hall of Famer is playing at a legendary clip, even by his lofty standards, spreading the ball around brilliantly to his receivers, tight ends, and backs. The Pats offensive line and running attack are humming.

And what Bill Belichick has done with this young defense is extraordinary. The Patriots have home field throughout in the AFC. See you Dallas. And schedule the parade.

Tagged: Falcons, Packers, Colts, Chiefs, Raiders, Patriots, Saints, Jets, Seahawks, Ravens, Steelers, Peyton Manning, Ben Roethlisberger, Matt Cassel, Matt Ryan

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